THE Indian selectors have played it safe in picking a captain this time - both in terms of the person and the period of his initial appointment. Sachin Tendulkar was picked because nobody could criticise the choice; he had been vice-captain under Mohammad Azharuddin and nobody can question his cricketing credentials.
About the only questions raised have been over Tendulkar's age - he is just 23 and picking him to lead right now would mean that he has to remain at the helm for a long time. He has at least another 12 years of cricket left in him and that is a conservative estimate.
The selectors have been careful to name Tendulkar for just two one-day series - the one in Sri Lanka and the Toronto games against Pakistan. No mention has been made of the series against South Africa which follows and which would be the real test of any captain, more so of one who has just taken over.
It remains to be seen wjether the captaincy will affect Tendulkar's batting. He will also have to contend with the presence in the team of the man he took over from. This is not a new situation as far as Indian cricket is concerned; Azharuddin had to put up with it too.
The selectors have moved to quell the questions which were raised by the omission of Vinod Kambli for the tour of England. He has come back after pledging that he would not cause the kind of problems he had created in the past.
The dropping of Sanjay Manjrekar is one thing which should have raised some questions, but the Indian press did not seem to even notice his omission. Manjrekar may well become another Mohinder Amarnath; the number of comebacks the latter made during his playing days is well known. Manjrekar has not been a misfit in the Indian one-day team by any reckoning; he is one of the better cricketers in the team and every bit a team man. He may well have to stomach the same treatment as meted out to his late father, Vijay.
No questions have been raised about the inclusion of David Johnson, though he is the sixth player from the South Indian state of Karnataka to figure in the squad named for tournament in Sri Lanka and the one-day matches against Pakistan. This, coming at a time when the chairman of the selection committee, Gundappa Viswanath, is from the same state, should have evoked some reaction in the media, but Johnson's performances in the local league have been good and maybe it went unquestioned for this reason. Of course, if he does not deliver pretty soon and still retains his place then questions are bound to be raised; Indian cricket has been a slave to the quota system for too long.
It is a pity that the selectors remained indecisive about the Sidhu issue. The man has been asked to explain his walking out on the team, this act being termed an over-reaction of the emotional kind. Nobody seems to have delved into the real reasons for this extraordinary display by an otherwise mature cricketer; the selectors thus seem to be wearing the same set of blinkers that their predecessors did. Controversy must be avoided at all costs - this is the watchword.
Some observers feel that an interim captain like Manjrekar would have served India's cause better. They consider Tendulkar too young. He has it in him to be a good skipper, they feel, but not right now. Manjrekar could have held the reins for a few years and then Sachin could have moved in. By handing the young man the captaincy right now, many hope that the new responsibilities do not destroy one fo the best players the game has seen for a long time.